And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Sunday, April 11, 2004

(Note: This was supposed to be published last night around 6:30, but I couldn't get Blogger to accept the publishing.)

How bad are we? Right now, my husband Dave is staked out in our bathroom, eavesdropping out the window on the latest situation with our white trash neighbors. It all started about a month ago, when we confronted a "kid" (we later found out he's 20 years old) riding an incredibly noisy, not to mention illegal dirt bike up and down our street at night when our kids were in bed and asked him to stop. He did. The next day, the same thing happened at naptime, and Dave went out again, but this time the kid and his friends gave him lip. Fine, we figured, next time, instead of trying to be neighborly, we'll just call the cops.

A few days later, the opportunity presented itself, and we tracked down the non-emergency police number (do you know how hard that is to find?) and called to report it. They seemed excited that we were reporting and transferred me to someone who asked for the address. I gave it, and asked, "The next time we call, what number should we call?" "911," was the reply, so obviously this is something the cops are taking semi-seriously. That was Friday, March 12. Saturday, March 13, our porch was set on fire.

It was 9:30 at night, both kids were asleep, and we were in the basement watching TV. Our lights were on, and both cars were in the driveway, so it was apparent that we were home. While sitting on our couch, we thought we smelled smoke, which was mildly alarming, but because we use an electric baseboard heater, which can sometimes smell "hot," to heat our basement, we assumed it was that. We unplugged the heater. Then we smelled smoke again, and this time saw some, up near the ceiling. Now a little bit more than mildly alarmed, Dave picked up the heater to take it outside or something, thinking unplugging it hadn't been enough. When he got upstairs, he saw smoke coming in under the front door and called to me.

I came upstairs, went to the front door, and opened it, and saw our welcome mat in flames. Dave was frantically searching under our kitchen sink for our fire extinguisher (he was ultimately unsuccessful); I ran back to the sink to find a pot to fill with water. I learned that water doesn't come out of the sink fast enough in such a situation. My pot did nothing, and neither did Dave's pot. I grabbed the phone and called 911 and raced to Katie's bedroom to wake her up.

I don't think I've ever done anything scarier in my life then wake my kids up to get them out of a burning house. I'm sure the 911 transcript would be entertaining reading, as I was in full-on panic mode, trying to wake my daughter calmly, dropping the phone, picking the baby up out of his crib. Katie was very disoriented, and I sent her out to the living room to leave the house through the back door. She started to go down the basement steps, poor thing, but by that time I'd gotten Ian, hung up with 911, and I could shepherd her out the back door -- all three of us barefoot and in pajamas.

We gathered on the front lawn. Dave had beaten us and was trying to use the garden hose to put out the fire, which by now had spread to the side wall of the porch and melted the vinyl siding. He was having a hard time untangling the hose, and ended up using the water coming out of the crack in the hose joint, but he finally got the fire out. Another minute or so and the fire trucks pulled up -- though he had to go flag them down, because the house numbers on our street are out of order, and they couldn't find our house (builds confidence, doesn't it?).

Meanwhile, Katie was cold (it was probably about 35 degrees), and I was trying to calm her by repeating, "It's OK, it's OK." In hindsight, your mother frantically trying to reassure you in such a manner probably isn't all that reassuring. I decided to take the kids to the neighbors' across the street, so I carried both of them over (still in my bare feet), only to find out that the neighbors weren't home. So we went next door instead. Those neighbors took us in, gave me tea, and gave Katie an audience (she perked up immediately once she was inside a house; Ian was nonplussed by it all), and I held it together -- until I went outside to talk to Dave, at which point I started sobbing hysterically (which was OK, because the kids were still with the neighbors).

(Aside -- funniest moment of the night was when one of the firefighters asked Dave, who had his arm around hysterically sobbing me, "This your wife?" No, it's just a hysterical bystander, officer, what do you think?)

Arson investigators came and talked to us. We told them about the dirt bike stuff, since this was the only possible reason for this to happen. We don't interact a whole lot with our neighbors, and there had been no other incidents like this in the six years we've lived here. I had gotten the first name of the kid from the neighbors -- he's the grandson of the woman who lives behind us in what can generously be described as a shack -- and when I told the police, they knew him and his last name, and didn't seem at all surprised. It turned out that what had happened was "someone" had pulled the old "flaming bag of dog poop on the porch" prank, only it got out of control. When I found that out, it made me feel a little bit better than the scenario I'd been envisioning, which involved someone deliberately setting our possessions on fire. But still -- a stupid thing to do, and extremely dangerous.

However, of course, as seems to happen often, there turned out to be nothing the police could do. They got a hold of the kid, but he claimed to have been at his girlfriend's house, and the girlfriend backed him up. No one saw anything. And so it goes.

And then the dirt bike started up again, supplemented with an equally noisy, also illegal ATV. I wasn't going to let them set my porch on fire *and* keep going with this, so I called the cops again last week, at which point an officer came to talk to me and told me that they're not really allowed to do anything in these situations, because if they chase the ATVs and the rider falls off, he could sue the police. In other words, really not worth the effort. So a few days later, again during naptime, I went out myself.

Now, it was probably a stupid thing to do, but I ended up confronting kid and friends (nicely at first), and they yelled at me, called me a bitch, and were generally disrespectful and argumentative. I came in from the encounter shaking with impotent rage, and couldn't think of anything to do. So I lashed out at the family behind us. They've been parking basically in our side yard for a couple of years, and we've had exchanges about it, but for the most part, since it's off a dirt street and behind a fence, we haven't bothered with it. Now I printed off a No Parking sign and wrote a note that said we'd like them to stop parking on our property, and that we'd let this go for a while, but given the disrespect shown us by their relative, we weren't feeling as charitable as we once were. I put the note on the windshield of the car parked there at the time. This was last Sunday.

Of course, nothing happened. The car continued to be parked there, and I didn't catch them not being there. I resolved to go out and buy "real" No Parking and Private Property signs, along with rope, and put them up (roping off the spot so they *couldn't* park there, as soon as I saw the car gone. That happened on Wednesday.

Thusday evening, the rope had been taken down. Dave went out to tie it back up, and this time kid's uncle, who is 27 and who lives in the auxiliary shack (converted garage) back there, confronts him. I went out and joined in the fray, during which this guy called me "eye-ratic" until I finally snapped at him that there was no such word and he should stop saying it. (No, I don't know when to back off.) We all had some words, but it actually eventually ended amicably, when I told him I didn't know what else to do to make them aware of the situation. He disavowed any responsibility for the kid, but still, I think we got our point across.

Of course, I found out that he had *also* called the police to file a report when I put the sign up originally, in case we vandalized his car or something. I told him I had a deed that proves it's our property; he asked to see it. I put a copy in their mailbox later that evening. Still, as I said, it seemed to be amicable, and I had hopes that things would be resolved.

And that brings us to today. Once again, while Ian was napping, the ATV started up again, rumbling the house. I looked out the back, and could see kid, minus helmet this time, doing wheelies, spinouts, standing up stunts, etc., up and down the road next to our house. I struggled. I really did. I tried to let it go. But after more than 10 minutes, I couldn't. I called 911, this time anonymously, and went back to the basement with Katie. A few minutes later, Dave came to ask me to keep an eye on the kids while he eavesdropped on the cops. A few minutes after that, he came and said, "Would it fill you with glee to know that the cop ran the ATV's serial number and it's apparently stolen?" Why, yes, it does.

And now, after this long saga, the events for today are over. Kid and ATV have been hauled off to the police station. I am overjoyed (and at the same time, a little guilty about that feeling). If they couldn't do anything about the fire, this is the next best thing. And at the very least, the ATV is gone for good! I'm so glad I called today, and that the stars were aligned to allow the cops to actually *get* there and catch the kid.

However, I think I may stay away from the windows for a while -- don't want to provide an easy target for any vengeful white trash neighbors!